People who smoke and drink heavily are at higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer at an early age, researchers from the University of Michigan have found.

Smoking is a strong risk factor for pancreatic cancer and alcohol has been shown to cause oxidative damage to the pancreas, which sets the stage for the inflammatory pathways that can lead to cancer.

The researchers came to the conclusion after analysing the data of 811 pancreatic cancer patients from the multicentre, international database, Pancreatic Cancer Collaborative Registry.

They examined several factors such as gender, race, birth country, educational status, family history of pancreatic cancer, diabetes status, and tobacco and alcohol use that cause pancreatic cancer.

Although all these factors play a major role in the development of the cancer, researchers found that alcohol and smoking increase the risk of pancreatic cancer at an early age.

The study found that people who smoke are at higher risk of pancreatic cancer at around age 62 and heavy drinkers are more likely to develop the cancer at age 61 - almost a decade earlier than the average age of 72, according to the findings published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Researchers also found that people who consume beer are at higher risk of pancreatic cancer earlier than those who drank other types of alcohol such as wine or hard liquor.

The study takes a step toward understanding at what age screening for pancreatic cancer should begin once widespread screening is available.

"As screening programmes are developed, an understanding of how personal features influence the age of presentation will be important to optimise the timing of those screenings," said Michelle Anderson, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System.

"Detecting pancreatic cancer early is difficult and contributes to the poor survival rates. By the time pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, it is frequently at an advanced stage and has spread to other organs."